Puritans established schools and libraries to provide mediated
access to select texts in order to "preserve" their
AFTER GOD HAD carried us safe to New
England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries
for our livelihood, reared convenient places for
God's worship, and led the civil government, one
of the next things we longed for and looked after
was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity;
dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the
churches, when our present ministers shall lie in
the dust. And as we were thinking and consulting
how to effect this great work, it pleased God to
stir up the heart of one Mr. Harvard (a godly gentleman
and a lover of learning, there living among us)
to give the one-half of his estate (it being in
all about £700) toward the ing of a college, and
all his library. After him, another gave £300; others
after them cast in more; and the public hand of
the state added the rest. The college was, by common
consent, appointed to be at Cambridge (a place very
pleasant and accommodate) and is called (according
to the name of the first founder) Harvard College.
The edifice is very fair and comely within and without,
having in it a spacious hall where they daily meet
at commons, lectures, and exercises; and a large
library with some books to it, the gifts of diverse
of our friends, their chambers and studies also
fitted for and possessed by the students, and all
other rooms of office necessary and convenient with
all needful offices thereto belonging.--New England's
First Fruits (London, 1643)
Indeed Knowledge is the first Thing,
that is necessary in order to Salvation; And it
is absolutely necessary, Unspeakable Necessary.
[Prov. 1] We read Hosea 4:6. of People Destroyed
for the lack of Knowledge. Ah! destructive Ignorance,
what shall be done to chase thee out of the World!
A world which by thee is rendered a dark World,
the Kingdom of Darkness!
... And, O thou Saviour, and Shepherd
of Thy New-English Israel: Be Entreated Mercifully
to look down upon they Flocks in the Wilderness.
Oh, give us not up to the Blindness and Madness
of neglecting the Lambs in the Flocks. Inspire thy
People, and all Orders of men among thy People with
a just care for the Education of Posterity. Let
Well-Ordered and well-instructed and well-maintained
Schools, be the Honour and the Defence of our Land.
Let Learning, and all the Helps and Means of it,
be precious in our Esteem and by Learning, let the
Interests of thy Gospel so prevail, that we may
be made wise unto Salvation. Save us, O our Lord
JESUS CHRIST. Save us from the Mischiefs and Scandals
of an Uncultivated Offspring; Let this be a Land
of Light, unto Thou, O Sun of Righteousness, do
Thyself arise unto the World with Healing in thy
Wings. Amen.--From Cotton Mather's "The
Education of Children"
III. Instruct your children in the great
matters of Salvation; Oh, Parents, do not let them
die without instruction.
There is indeed, an Instruction in Civil
Matters which we owe unto our Children. It is very
pleasing to our Lord Jesus Christ, that our Children
be well formed with, and well informed in the rules
of Civility, and not be left a Clownish, and Sottish,
and Ill Bred sort of Creatures. An Unmannerly Brood
is a Dishonour to Religion.
And, there are many points of a Good
Education that we should bestow upon our Children;
they should Read, and Write, and Cyphar [arithmetic],
and be put unto some Agreeable Callings; and not
only our Sons, but our Daughters also should be
taught such things, as will afterwards make them
useful in their places. There is a little Foundation
of Religion laid in such an Education. But besides,
and beyond all this, there is an Instruction in
Divine Matters, which our Children are to be made
partakers of.--From Cotton Mather's "The
Duties of Parents To Their Children"
Puritans suffered from a print "economy of scarcity"
that meant few individuals (other than members of the Mather
family) would be able to own a significant collection of books.
Many texts were disseminated in manuscript form, with readers
transcribing whole or excerpted texts into their own notebooks
This meant that those who wished to read and "make"
books had to know those who already owned their own copies.
In a letter to his son at Yale, James Noyes talks about the difficulties
he is experiencing finding a copy of the works of Ramus. As Ramsian
played a central role of the curriculum of that day, the younger Noyes
would have needed a copy for his college studies:
"I have just sent twice to your brother James for Ramus or Gudlibet's
comment on Ramus, but in vaine, and I know not way to doe or you wish
doe. If I had beene well I would have tried the young ministers round
about us but I am not able at present. January 8, 1706."
(Letter presently in the manuscript holdings of the Peabody-Essex
Thus, the specific properties of a manuscript culture ensured
that members of the public would receive information through
the mediation of ministers and public officials, while ministers
and other members of the standing order received their education
through the mediation of those who were already members of